On my birthday in 2006, I purchased an Amazon Prime membership as a gift to myself. At the time, the service was brand new, and I didn’t know quite what to expect as I typed in my credit card number. What I did know was that I loved Amazon, and the promise of free 2-day shipping proved irresistible. At the very least I figured it’d be an interesting experiment; maybe I would even use it enough to break even over the course of the next 365 days.
Today, coming up on five years later, Amazon Prime is as much a part of my purchasing life as anything else. I use the service all the time (sometimes multiple times per day), and there’s no telling how much money I’ve saved on shipping alone (let alone savings from purchasing on Amazon versus another online store or local retailer).
If you’re an Amazon shopper, purchase from the retailer more than six times a year, and love getting things delivered quickly for no cost, Amazon Prime should be $79 you spend each year before you buy anything else online.
What is Amazon Prime?
In short, Amazon Prime is a member club for Amazon.com. The price per year is $79. Membership provides free 2-day shipping and $3.99 overnight shipping for just about every product Amazon.com sells or ships directly (third-party retailers offering their products on Amazon.com that do not ship via Amazon are exempt). There is no minimum purchase amount. You can order for yourself, or as a gift, and orders can be shipped at these prices to any address in the U.S. (other than Alaska, Hawaii, U.S. territories). Delivery is available on all days but Sunday.
Prime membership also allows you to view thousands of movies and TV shows for free through Prime Instant Video. [Update: And as Ryan P points out in the comments section below, access to the free Kindle Lending Library.]
Ordering as an Amazon Prime Member
Once your Amazon account is associated with Prime, the site changes a bit. Products shipped from Amazon that qualify for Prime’s free 2-day or $3.99 overnight are marked as Prime Eligible at the top of their product page:
If you do a product search, qualified items for Prime shipping are marked below the starred rating on the results page(s):
You can also see in the screenshot that Amazon will let you know when you need to order an item if you want it to ship that day; this Cuisinart coffee maker, at 2:30PM CST, would go out the same day if I completed my order by 3:30PM.
Once you’ve decided to purchase Prime-eligible products, you select whether you want free 2-day or $3.99 overnight shipping at checkout. Delivery estimates are shown as well.
One of my few complaints about Amazon Prime is that each item’s shipping method in a single order cannot be individually set, so it’s all overnight or all 2-day. [Update: This is no longer true in 2012; you can now ship items to multiple addresses with each address allowed its own shipping method.] Of course, you can [also] place multiple orders at no cost if you want the different shipping methods for different items, but Amazon should add a per-item shipping option rather than a per-order one size fits all.
Personal Experiences with Amazon Prime
Amazon Prime makes purchasing from the online retail giant a money saving tool. With shipping costs now moot, you can purchase all sorts of things you’d normally buy in a brick-and-mortar store.
Here are some ways I’ve used Amazon Prime over the years.
Use Case 1: My Harmony universal remote displays a low battery warning on Tuesday afternoon and I’m fresh out of AAAs. In three days the remote will be dead. Rather than going to the store that night or the next day, I simply order batteries on Amazon (36-pack AAAs for $9); they’ll arrive on Thursday with free shipping. Not only do I get a better price at Amazon, I also save money on gas by skipping Wal-Mart or Publix, while avoiding wear and tear on my car and general traffic aggravation.
Use Case 2: My laptop hard drive dies. I have the files backed up on Carbonite [sponsor], but I need a replacement drive as soon as possible. Amazon has the one I want (why not upgrade to a 1TB?) and at a lower price than BestBuy. Overnight shipping would normally cost $30 or more. With Prime, it’s there the next morning for $4. One or two of these situations per year and the membership has paid for itself.
Use Case 3: I’m in a store and see a Blu-ray player I’ve been eying; it’s on sale for $20 less than last week. I whip out my iPhone and use the Amazon Mobile app to check the price online. It’s $199 at the store, $178 on Amazon. I order right from the phone and it’s there the next day.
Use Case 4: I help out my grandmother by ordering vitamins, batteries and other sundries she need around the house. With Amazon Prime, they get to her quickly for free, and sometimes recurring shipments are available for things she needs all the time.
Use Case 5: Browsing Amazon.com I come across an item you’ve wanted for a while. It’s on sale. Shipped overnight, no fuss, no muss – no waiting. $4.
Share with Family
Once you’ve paid for a membership, you can share Prime with up to four members of your household at no additional cost. This is particularly great if you have students in the family that live outside the home. Since your home is their permanent address, you can add Prime membership to their own Amazon account(s). Spouses, children and even roommates can share. Note: Not all Amazon Prime features are available to shared Prime members. Check the site for details.
Prime Instant Video
Prime Instant Video, the newest feature of the service, allows Prime members to watch unlimited movies and TV shows on a Mac or PC, or many other connected devicesincluding Blu-ray players, internet connected TVs, and set-top media boxes like Roku. Unfortunately, XBox, Wii and
PS3 owners are currently out of luck. [The PS3 was recently added to the list of supported devices. The Kindle Fire tablet is also compatible.]
Amazon has thousands of titles in their Prime Instant Library with more coming. Streaming, of course, requires high speed internet connectivity.
I’ve tested this feature a bit, though I hate watching long video on a computer. If you have the correct hardware connected to your TV (or a TV with Amazon Instant Video support), this is a great addition to membership.
I use a PS3 for internet video, so for now this won’t do me much good.
As you know by now, I’m a huge fan of Amazon Prime. It’s one of the few “money saving” memberships I’ve tried that I haven’t regretted or kicked myself or not cancelling when automatic renewal time passed without notice.
I can’t recommend it highly enough.
If you’re a frequent Amazon shopper, just get it. You’ll love it. And right now you can try Amazon Prime free for a month.
Updated May 24, 2012, with additional details and updated features of the service. All changes to the original 2011 article are [in brackets].